Color, 1988, 85m.
Directed by Dimitri Logothetis
Starring Nicholas Celozzi, Tom Reilly, Donna Denton, Toni Basil, Hope Marie Carlton, Tamara Hyler, Steven Brian Smith, Ty Miller
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Retrofilm (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Released just as the '80s horror boom was dying rapidly, Slaughterhouse Rock may not make a ton of sense but you have to give it credit for trying every trick in the book. Adopting the smoky, stylized look of music videos for much of its running time, the film plays like a college/prison gumbo of films like Demons, Trick or Treat, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Witchboard, with enough gore and bare skin to make audiences happy and enough stupidity to make critics pull out their knives. Needless to say, if you're an '80s horror junkie, this former VHS fixture delivers the junky goods.
Plagued for over a week by nightmares in which he's chained up and mutilated by a clawed demon, college student Alex (Celozzi) is told by his buddies that his dreams must be connected to a macabre incident at nearby Alcatraz in which four members of a rock band called Body Bag were horribly murdered just before their tour boat was set to take them back home. The situation gets worse when he starts having waking visions of monster hands bursting through the walls of a restaurant, worms crawling out of his cheek, and a beast bursting into his bedroom to rip open his chest. His older brother, party boy Richard (CHiPS' Reilly), is concerned when Alex's dreams start manifesting in reality, first in scratches on his neck and then in more overt ways, and after a bit of research by his girlfriend (Denton) and their friends, it turns out there's a nasty demon lurking in Alcatraz that was temporarily raised by those pesky dead rockers. Now Alex appears to be harboring the secret to what really went down, so they all head out to Alcatraz from the night where they encounter spooky rock queen Sammy Mitchell (pop singer and dancer Toni "Mickey" Basil, sporting some crazy hats), her mangled band mates, and the fanged demon itself.
First of all, it should be noted that this film isn't quite a full-on rock horror film in the mode of Rocktober Blood (where's that Blu-ray?!), Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, Trick or Treat, Blood Roses, or Terror on Tour, though it does feature some kitschy dead rockers with gored-up facial and throat wounds. That said, you do get a really fun electronic score by Devo (yes, that Devo) and a very energetic turn by Basil, who stops the show just before the one-hour mark with an interpretive music video dance sequence that must be seen to be believed. Most of the actors seem like they just saw the script five seconds before the cameras started rolling, but Reilly and comic relief Steven Brian Smith bring some breezy charisma to their roles anyway. More oddly, in addition to some of the obligatory female topless shots, the film features an insane amount of shirtless beefcake and bro bonding that puts this somewhere between David DeCoteau territory and famous coded closeted horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge and The Lost Boys.
Picked up for U.S. distribution by Taurus (who also picked up Two Evil Eyes) for a very marginal theatrical run, Slaughterhouse Rock made its way to VHS from Sony Video almost immediately and caught a lot of eyeballs with its striking cover art. After that it disappeared from the United States entirely for decades, finally resurfacing in 2016 on Blu-ray from Code Red with a fresh scan from the original negative. For the record, this is the standard theatrical cut and not the reported earlier edit that popped up on Dutch VHS, which briefly extended two demon shots and featured a random bit of extra dialogue (running about 20 seconds longer); that cut also turned up on one of the German DVDs, albeit dubbed in German only. Image quality is obviously a major leap over the past transfers with radically improved black levels (it really looks like it's taking place at night now) and borderline psychedelic colors at times, befitting the whole music video aesthetic (with lots of neon in a few scenes, too). Some of the super dark scenes in the second half are still problematic just because of how they were shot with very low lighting, resulting in a pretty nasty, gritty appearance that's part of the original source. The DTS-HD MA English stereo track sounds fine given there isn't anything too dynamic going on apart from that Devo score.
Speaking of which, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh (who's since gone on to a notable film scoring career with films like 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) is on hand for two extras, a quick video intro (with the label's talking banana) and a 10-minute interview about how Basil suggested Devo for the project after they worked on her Mickey album, what it was like doing his first film score (not counting Human Highway, built around preexisting Devo music),and the collaborative nature of the band's composing songs. Also on hand is cinematographer Nicholas Josef von Sternberg for a 13-minute interview in which he briefly talks about having fun on this film before heading on to other topics like why he didn't follow his famous father into directing, the unique approach he took to shooting Dolemite, his disastrous experience on Another You, and the Canadian financial chicanery that made him retire.
Reviewed on December 9, 2016